Relentless physical punishment for nearly every player who touches a puck along the boards. Big defencemen who mash opponents into the glass and press as hard as possible for as long as they’re able.
It’s borderline battery. And to win in the NHL playoffs, you better get used to it. Both dishing it out and taking it.
“For lack of a better word, you get the shit kicked out of you during a game and you’ve got to be willing to do it to someone else,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said this week.
“And there’s players that do and players that don’t. When you ask, well, how come that guy didn’t play or how come he’s struggling or something like that, that’s why.”
It’s a killer instinct mindset that will allow the Flames to close out a hard-fought series against the Stars. We’ll see tonight if the relatively inexperienced playoff squad has it in them.
“You can’t let up or show any weakness. You’ve got to kick guys when they’re down,” said Flames winger Blake Coleman, who is no stranger to sacrifice, winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“If there’s something I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that closing a team out is the hardest part of a series. They’re going to be a proud group.
“You’ve got to put them in a position where they just don’t want it anymore.”
That challenge may be even more difficult against a team loaded with playoff veterans. Coleman played the majority of this Stars team in the Stanley Cup final two years ago. And the Stars have added young stars Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson to the mix.
Meanwhile, nearly half the Calgary Flames active roster has yet to win a single best-of-seven playoff round. Johnny Gaudreau did it as a rookie in 2015, but it’s been a long seven years since then. Gaudreau, though, looks at it as an exciting challenge.
“Big opportunity for a lot of guys in our locker room,” Gaudreau said on Friday. “A lot of guys have never been to a point like this in their careers, so it’s exciting.”
Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane are two guys that are getting a lot of extra attention from the Stars defencemen. They are quick but can be swallowed up along the boards and have had to absorb a lot of added punishment to make plays.
Gaudreau expects more of the same in Game 6 with elimination on the line.
“It’s hard to end a team’s season. They’re going to be fighting extremely hard there and it’s going to be a hard-fought game,” said Gaudreau, noting the physical play against him from Jani Hakanpaa and Esa Lindell over the course of the series.
“Every time they get a chance to put the body down, they’re going to do it. It’s been tough at times, but I’m happy with the way our team has played. I’m happy with how our line has played.
“We’re sitting here today with a great opportunity in front of ourselves.”
There have been many ups and downs as the Calgary Flames figure it all out under Sutter. The coach says that elusive fourth win is the “next step in the process – see if we’re capable of doing that.”
Coleman believes they are, after joining them as a free agent last summer for this very opportunity.
“When you have a really good team like we do, you don’t want to let opportunities like this slip by. I feel like our group is a special group and sometimes you just need that reminder that chances like this don’t happen every year, every day,” he said.
“These are the games that you remember.”